Spring Training Notes: Scottsdale, Aoki, Lawrie | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

The biggest news coming out of Brewers camp yesterday surrounded the purported five-year contract extension for Jonathan Lucroy. Ken Rosenthal hears the deal will be worth more than $11M, but will vary depending on whether the Brewers’ catcher qualifies as a Super Two at the conclusion of the 2012 season.

As we await the final contract numbers to accurately reflect on the rumored extension, plenty more news and notes are surfacing in Maryvale.

Brewers To Scottsdale?

The Milwaukee Brewers currently house their spring training operation in Phoenix at Maryvale Baseball Park. It consistently ranks near the bottom of “must-see” stadiums in the Cactus League, though the stadium itself gets an unnecessarily bad reputation, in my opinion. The problem with Maryvale Baseball Park is not the field (which is gorgeous) or the stadium (which is spacious and enjoyable). Instead, it is the surrounding neighborhood that decreases the attraction of the Brewers’ spring training home.

The Arizona Republic reported last week that Milwaukee has engaged in talks with the city of Scottsdale to move their facilities to an 80-acre plot of land in the Phoenix suburb. The potential stadium would be funded through a private partnership of the Brewers and other investors. To put it bluntly, it would not utilize public funding to finance the project.

The team is countering the report, however. Adam McCalvy writes that the Brewers are certainly talking to Scottsdale, but are currently entertaining a host of options, including remaining in Maryvale. The Brewers desire expanded clubhouses and more modern facilities to keep up with their competition and remain attractive to free agents who take spring training location and facilities into account when signing with teams during the offseason.

Most organizations have fled Phoenix to the surrounding suburbs. After this season, it appears that the city of Phoenix will be without any big league organizations within the city limits. The only two teams remaining — Milwaukee and Oakland — will likely be elsewhere next spring.

Oakland will reportedly transition to HoHoKam Park in Mesa after the Cubs depart for their new facility.

Aoki On Fire To End Camp

Coming into spring training, no one legitimately knew what to expect from the Brewers’ newest outfielder, Norichika Aoki. He enjoyed great success in Japan, but the major leagues have seen multiple Japanese batting champions fizzle out once arriving stateside. Players such as Tsuyoshi NishiokaAkinora IwamuraKaz Matsui, and So Taguchi all underperformed to expectations and eventually were relegated to bench or Triple-A duty. In fact, only Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui have carved out significant big league careers in recent memory.

Aoki struggled in his first action against major league pitching. He began the Cactus League season with a .156 batting average through his first 32 at-bats. Fastballs consistently had more velocity than he saw in Japan. Breaking pitches had more bite and better placement. Multiple fans commented on this site and sent messages to me via Twitter that Aoki simply appeared overwhelmed.

That somber tune has shifted dramatically. The Japanese outfielder is in the midst of a torrid stretch at the plate. He hit a home run off left-hander Clayton Kershaw, for goodness sake. That simply is not supposed to happen to Kershaw against elite left-handed hitters, much less a reserve outfielder without a prestigious power reputation, yet Aoki knocked one over the right field fence after a 10-pitch at-bat against the 2011 Cy Young Award winner.

Manager Ron Roenicke raved about Aoki to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He mentioned that Aoki could serve as the team’s “right-handed hitter” off the bench and be called upon to pinch hit against tough southpaws late in games. While silly on the surface, Aoki historically hit left-handers very well in Japan and is extremely comfortable taking the baseball up the middle and to the opposite field, as are most Japanese hitters.

That type of role would obviously lessen the need for Brooks Conrad, who has struggled at the plate more than expected this spring and has historically been below average with the glove. Perhaps that could open up the door for Taylor Green to serve as the second reserve infielder and provide some home run power off the bench.

Brett Lawrie and “What If”

With the lofty praise being heaped on Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie this offseason, it has become a common occurrence to bash last winter’s Lawrie/Marcum trade as an unequivocal mistake by Doug Melvin. Some have even gone as far as to suggest the Brewers could have reached the playoffs in 2011 with Brett Lawrie at third base in Milwaukee and Shaun Marcum still in Toronto.

This is wrong on multiple levels.

(1) Shaun Marcum carried the Brewers’ pitching staff early in the year. He compiled a 3.39 ERA in the first half of the 2011 season. Zack Greinke, on the other hand, sat on the DL with broken ribs for the first month of the year and proceeded to return and chuck up a 5.45 ERA prior to the All-Star Break. The Brewers’ other ace, Yovani Gallardo, posted a 5.70 ERA in the month of April.

It’s difficult to say where the Brewers would have been without Shaun Marcum early in the year. It’s also crazy to think that fans continue to actively discredit the 30-year-old right-hander as superfluous to the Brewers’ postseason run, despite a 3.54 ERA over 200.2 innings. Every other team in the league would surrender quite a bit to obtain that sort of production.

(2) No Shaun Marcum means no Zack Greinke.

Greinke made it abundantly clear that he only waived his no-trade clause to come to Milwaukee because he felt the Brewers possessed a good chance to reach the postseason in 2011. After all, he turned down a trade to the Washington Nationals, despite the inclusion of a $100M+ contract extension as a part of the overall package. It is tough to believe Greinke would have viewed Milwaukee as a postseason contender without Marcum in the mix to upgrade the starting rotation.

(3) The Milwaukee Brewers were not necessarily going to play Lawrie at third base. That switch took place after the trade to Toronto. Simply assuming that the Brewers would have done the same — as it was a controversial move amongst scouts at the time — ignores a lot.

(4) The reconstruction of history is not simply a mathematical equation. We cannot look back in history and simply swap one player for another and assume the remainder of the team would have independently functioned in exactly the same way. Context matters in baseball.

Perhaps the clubhouse would have fractured if Brett Lawrie played third base over Casey McGehee. After all, Lawrie is bombastic and egotistical, while McGehee was one of the team favorites in the clubhouse last season. Or perhaps Lawrie would have played worse in the pressure of a pennant race. Or perhaps the pitching staff would have performed even worse with Lawrie at third base. The conversation could continue for days in that same fashion.

Baseball is not played in a vacuum. Player A cannot simply be replaced by Player B and Player C, D, E, and F are not somehow affected by the transaction. The Milwaukee Brewers with Brett Lawrie and without Shaun Marcum probably would have not made the playoffs last season. Sure, the organization would have one of the brightest third base prospects in the league, but they would not have hung a division pennant from the rafters this winter.

Quick Hits

  • Right-hander Brandon Kintzler has begun throwing once again and feels no pain. The organization has dubbed the injury a “mysterious ailment,” according to recent statements. A source informed me of the specific diagnosis, though asked me to remain quiet about specifics because significant disagreement regarding the diagnosis cropped up this spring amongst all parties involved. [Adam McCalvy]
  • Former Brewers reliever Mitch Stetter was released on Monday by the Texas Rangers. [Evan Grant]
  • Yuniesky Betancourt appears poised to garner significant playing time at second base with the Kansas City Royals. [FanGraphs]
  • Cincinnati Reds’ closer Ryan Madson will undergo Tommy John surgery and will miss the entire 2o12 season. [MLB Trade Rumors]
  • The Toronto Blue Jays created a bit of a stir on Monday afternoon by signing right-hander Dustin McGowan to a two-year, $3M deal with a team option for a third year. McGowan has only appeared in five games since the 2008 season due to injuries. [SportsNet]
  • After this weekend’s tragic events, Matt Bush will not be playing for the Tampa Bay Rays ever again. [Tampa Bay Online]

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